I’m 12 years old. And I’m locked eye to eye with my mother. Two people, one crumbling… the other leaving.
We have a flight to catch. Micronesia.
Weeks earlier, we spent days packing the things we couldn’t take on the plane and we shipped it all off.
We’d stayed the week leading up to our flight with a friend of my mother’s. The day before our flight, she kicked us out.
I came home from school that Friday afternoon, and our remaining things are strewn about under this woman’s white, early 1900s house. The house is a marsh-construction, stilted 20 feet off the ground to prevent decay amidst acres of Hawaiian sugarcane paddies.
The next morning, I wake to the hazel aura of daylight, still sore from sleeping in the dirt wrapped in old blankets and sleeping bags amid a cricket and tree-frog symphony.
My mother is trying to start her car. It’s wheezing and sputtering. But it’s not starting. She is getting progressively more anxious.
At first I ignore the scene, scavenging for food and distractedly reading Archie comics, a slice of anger wedged tightly like a smoldering ember under my collarbone.
I climb a nearby guava tree, moving up the branches, cradling some of the pink guavas to check for ripeness. Finding a few, I toss them down for my sister, age 7. I find a seat toward the top of the tree and dangle my legs, biting absentmindedly into one of the guavas, watching my mother from behind the leaves and branches.
She’s pacing, turning hysterical. I can see her starting to panic. Her hair is tied manically, pieces of it sticking out on either side. She’s wearing her tie-dyed pants and a loose amber-colored t-shirt, the buttons opened enough to reveal the skin of her shoulders.
I know she wants to call someone, but her friend has locked us out and is staying in town. The nearest phone is several miles down winding hot, dirt roads. Hell if I’m making that trek for her. I know she’s thinking about asking me.
But she’s also crying… her sobs sad and deep. She’s trying to start her car and crying.
“Give up, mom.” I say quietly… to no one.
I watch her scene a few more minutes and then let myself out of the tree and back onto the ground.
I’m starting to feel her anxiety pushing me. Her sadness. I’m thinking about my future. Thinking about how it’s going to be if I’m 18 and she’s still doing this. How am I going to do well in school? She’s moving us every few months. This time, it’s Micronesia. A year earlier we were in Australia. Months before that, Fiji. Months before that, Tonga.
She says there’s a commune in Micronesia. People who want the same things she wants. A commune.
My mom has trouble keeping friends. This latest situation is a prime example.
I can’t imagine how Micronesia will be any different. What happens when we get kicked out of there? I’m thinking of our Visa issues in Australia. We were deported. Shipped back to Hawaii. Arrested on arrival for a latent court warrant.
I’m watching her, and she can’t handle it. She’s in that emotion again… crippling into herself. Hurting. Feeling sorry for herself. Feeling broken. Feeling hopeless. Needing help again.
“Mom.” I’m standing in front of her, and she’s just crying.
“I need you girls to just wait. Stay put, while I figure this out.” She starts.
“I’m not going with you.”
She just looks at me with a mixture of anger, apathy and regret. “You are my children. You go where I tell you to go.”
“No. No you don’t.” I was staring her down. I took a breath, trying to control my emotions… “You think it’s going to be better in Micronesia?” I paused. “It’s always better somewhere else.” The tears were streaming down my face. I just wanted to be able to say what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to choke on these feelings. I wasn’t going to be like her. I could keep it together. “You can’t parent us, mom.”
My sister drew closer, picking up on the energy in our scene. “Psalmie?”
“I don’t want to be your daughter, anymore, mom. I don’t want to go anywhere with you, anymore.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Psalm.”
“I don’t care how it works! I just don’t want to be with you anymore. I don’t want my life to be like this!”
My mom looked so utterly heartbroken, I thought she might die right there.
“You can’t parent. You think this is parenting? What’s going to happen to us if we keep following you?”
“What do I have without my children, Psalm?” She looked like she was actually asking. Like she actually wanted to know.
“That’s the thing. You have nothing. You have NOTHING. Nothing to give, nothing to live for. You want to die SO BAD, mom. So die! No one is keeping you here. You think I’m keeping you here? I’m free, mom. I don’t even need you. I never needed you. You can just die. You can just die and it’s OK. So go ahead, OK? I’m gonna go.”
“PSALMIE, NO!” My sister is in a panic now, grabbing my arm.
I force back tears. She’s still so little – 7, but she still can’t read… still needs so much, all skin and bones, her legs like two twigs with knobs for knees, her long sun-bleached blonde hair knotted & winding down her back. I suck it up and look her in the eyes, still trying to keep it together, trying to pretend I am brave. “You have to choose, Dawnie. You stay here with mom, or you go with me.”
Dawn is crying. She looks from me to my mom. She can’t choose. I know this is hard for her.
“I’m sorry” I say, turning to leave.
“Psalmie!!!” My sister shrieks. She starts to run after me and then dives back toward my mom in a messy hug.
I don’t even take anything with me. I think of things I might have needed. Clothes. Shoes. I don’t even care.
The untended gravel driveway is spotted with weeds and bushes. The road appears ahead of me, caramel dirt and ripe green stalks of sugarcane lining its periphery. The sun is higher in the sky now, and beating down. I can hear nothing but the wind moving the sugarcane, the occasional bird sweeping overhead.
Suddenly it’s just me. I can feel the sadness in my chest bursting in my throat and I can’t swallow it anymore. The tears come flooding down my cheeks.
And then I hear my sister.
I pause in the road, and when I turn, there she is… dragging her Care Bears backpack on the dirty ground, stuffing her blankie, her favorite book that I have to read to her, her stuffed bear into it. All the necessities.
I am just watching her and I’m pushing back tears again. And I wait as she catches up: Breathless, in tears.
“Psalmie.” She catches up and she’s just looking at me.
I don’t know where we’re going. I just take her hand and look in her eyes, mustering my own confidence. “It’s going to be OK.” I tell her, smiling. She nods, wiping some tears out of her eyes, and it’s just the two of us, her little backpack and miles of smoked-dust roadside.